Abbi’s Pro Guide to Goodwill Shopping

I love Goodwill.

A lot of people ask me how I find the dedication to Goodwill as hard as I do, and usually they’re surprised that most of my wardrobe comes from a thrift store.

I buy shirts, pants, jeans, dresses, shoes, books and dishes at Goodwill. Whenever I talk to others about Goodwill, I’m always asked what my secret is to finding the clothes that I do. So, I would like to impart my Goodwill strategy with you.


First of all, find a Goodwill near you. This is key. If you’re going to brave it on the first Saturday of the month (1/2 off everything in the store!), make sure you dress in comfy, breathable clothes. You will be sweating by the end. Your pores will be filled with Goodwill. Your lungs will ache. I experienced this yesterday, and came away with a swelled throat. Plan accordingly.


Before you enter the Goodwill, mentally prepare yourself. You need a strategy. This may sound strange, but I visit the store in exactly the same order every time. Pants, sleeveless, short sleeved, long sleeved women, dresses, long sleeved men, shoes, home goods, books. Every time.

Although this can be adjusted if you specifically need something (which I generally don’t), make sure you hit up the sections in order of importance to you. If you don’t, someone will get the thing you wanted by the time you get there. If you’re all about the reward system (i.e., if you look through the pants first and then reward yourself with the dresses), you will need to reassign your priorities.

I’ve used the reward system. Depending on how busy the store is, someone will probably pick out the one Ann Taylor Loft tags-on lace shorts that should’ve belonged to you. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing another person walk by your aisle holding the perfect item on a hanger. And, it’s probably half off for that color sales tag, too.


No one is your friend. That woman you’re eyeing over the aisle is definitely going to find the one thing you can’t leave the store without so you need to be one step ahead of her. It’s every woman for herself. If you smell weakness, prey upon it. If she picks up a shirt you love and then thinks about it and puts it back… You grab that shirt. You can look at it later. Display dominance. Old ladies have a fiery side when it comes to deals. This is not a joke.


If you only partially like it in the store, you sure as heck aren’t going to like it in real life. When you go to new clothing stores, the clothes always look better on you (like maybe +5) than they do in real life. At Goodwill, you’re looking at maybe a +1. Keep that in mind. All of the cute clothes are relatively cute – only cute after you’ve gone through eight racks of itchy sweaters that were last worn in the eighties. Don’t let the Goodwill blinders suck you in – stay strong in your style.


When you approach the rack, you have to commit. Use those toned triceps to pull back the clothes enough that you can see the whole shirt without obstruction. No room? I physically pick up a handful of shirts and move them to another bar so I have room to look. I have pulled muscles this way. It’s part of the turf.

Generally, you can see the fabric of the material that you want to buy. However, there are hidden shirts that need love, too. I flip through every shirt in my size bracket to avoid this.


Speaking of size brackets, here’s a pro tip: start with the size you think you are, and then go through the mixed color shirts below and above that size. If they mislabeled the sizes, they’ll probably be in those multicolor sections. If you’ve got more time, I’d also suggest going through the additional colors of the sizes above and below. Yesterday, I found an adorable shirt in the XS section that was actually a large. Don’t give up hope; people make mistakes.


The Goodwill smell will always be there, and you’ll always feel like having an allergy attack after visiting for over thirty minutes. This is something you need to make peace with.


Give yourself plenty of time. No one really goes with me to Goodwill, based purely on the fact that I take about two hours and try on a significant portion of the store. I’m slightly jealous of whoever gets my fitting room after me, because I’ve taken the time to comb through all the good stuff.


All jokes aside, Goodwill shopping just takes a little bit of dedication. If you’re willing to get your hands dirty – and they may literally get dirty – you can find some great stuff. You can’t lightly brush through the shirts, you need to grasp them firmly. Without this quality, you will fail at Goodwill shopping. My sister hates Goodwill because she doesn’t want to touch clothes that others have warn. This is a surefire way to not find anything worth buying.


The shortest line is not always the fastest line. Case in point – yesterday I waited in the “shortest” line for one full hour while people in the longer line cycled through twice as quickly. It was painful to watch. If you’re really concerned about it, watch how fast the sales associate wraps the home goods in paper. This is directly connected to the line’s length.

I hope my tips help you along your Goodwill journey. Happy thrifting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s